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Davis derails Disney annual shareholder meeting

Jim Hill

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Davis derails Disney annual shareholder meeting

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On behalf of the Walt Disney Company and its stockholders, I'd like to apologize to the city of New Orleans.

I mean, hasn't this beautiful city suffered enough? After having been blown about by Hurricane Katrina, was it really necessary to then expose the Big Easy to yet another long-winded female, Evelyn Y. Davis?

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Mind you, that wasn't the Mouse's plan. What Disney executives had originally hoped to do was present their corporation's annual meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Give its Lousiana-area stockholders a chance to see how well the company has done in the past year. More importantly, show them what Mickey has in store for 2007 and beyond.

But professional corporate gadfly Davis had a very different agenda in mind. Which is why she grabbed the microphone right in the middle of John Lasseter's presentation yesterday. And as John politely paused his talk about what was coming next from Feature Animation, Evelyn complained bitterly about how outrageous it was that Disney's dog-and-pony show had already dragged on for 50 minutes.

When -- Ms. Davis brayed -- were they finally going to get to the really important stuff? That portion in the program where Evelyn would finally be allowed to approach the podium & hold forth?

Of course, what was kind of ironic about all this is here was this elderly eccentric kvetching about how outrageous it was that the Disney Company kept going on & on about what was coming next. And yet -- if you were to ask the other people in the hall what they thought was outrageous -- they'd have pointed to Evelyn herself. Who kept disrupting yesterday's meeting with her self-absorbed rants.

Take -- for example -- that moment in the meeting where Evelyn hogged the mike and ordered Disney CEO Bob Iger to have Barbara Walters' office contact her. So that Ms. Davis could then find out the name of the designer who had created the black-and-gold gown that Walters wore during her pre-Academy Awards broadcast.

That's pretty bizarre behavior, don't you think? So why do senior officials of the Walt Disney Company tolerate Evelyn's antics? Because they have to.

To explain: As a shareholder of the Disney corporation, this 75-year-old shareholder does have the right to quiz the company's board of directors as well as submit proposals to be considered at the Mouse House's annual meetings. And since Ms. Davis is a hard-of-hearing Holocaust survivor ... Well, given her age & life experience, Disney senior officials make a real effort to treat this lady with a certain measure of tolerance & respect.

But given the way that Evelyn (Who -- during the months of March & April -- will often attend the annual meetings of 40 different companies. Tormenting officials at many of these corporate gatherings with her constant hectoring & grandstanding) behaves ... Tolerating her outbursts (Which -- this time around -- ranged from disparaging comments about Roy E. Disney to her theories about how "The Internets" are drastically eroding the value of the company's assets) can often be a challenge.

I mean, pity poor John Pepper. Here he was in the middle of his very first annual meeting as Disney's new chairman of the board. And given that Pepper was in charge during the business portion of this meeting, he was the one who wound up dealing with most of Evelyn's outbursts. Constantly reminding Ms. Davis that she only had two minutes in which to make her comments, even though Evelyn would repeatedly dismiss him. Saying " ... You're only the chairman of the board, John. I want Bob to answer my questions."

Well, in spite of Ms. Davis's interruptions, this was still one of the more entertaining annual meetings that the Walt Disney Company has ever presented. Though, that said, it should be noted that it was also one of the more poorly attended. Before the event actually got underway, Rich Koster of Disney Echo made a quick count of the house. And he estimated that there were only 100 - 120 people seated in the entire hall.

Now contrast that with the 50-plus suits, staffers and assistants that Disney had flown in to New Orleans to serve as support staff for this event. Then add to that dozens of senior Mouse House officials, the company's board of directors as well as their family members. And -- to be honest -- the people in that hall who were on Disney's payroll may have actually outnumbered the shareholders who had come into town just to attend yesterday's meeting.

Given the size of the auditorium, this was a much more intimate gathering than usual. And Bob Iger (once again taking advantage of his on-camera experience as a TV weatherman) was a very comfortable and confident M.C. for this corporate event. Deliberately avoiding hiding behind the podium whenever possible, Iger stood at center stage and warmly greeted Robin Roberts of ABC's "Good Morning America." And then as these two chatted about this veteran newswoman's strong family ties to this area, it became obvious that that Disney was truly sincere (Well ... As truly sincere as a multi-national corporation can be, I guess) about its efforts to be supportive of the Big Easy in its time of trouble.

Of course, there was another reason that Mouse House officials wanted to hold this year's annual meeting down in New Orleans. And that was to officially announce that "The Frog Princess" (I.E. WDFA's official return to traditional animation) would be set in New Orleans of the 1920s. And to celebrate this special occasion, John Lasseter introduced Academy Award-winner Randy Newman and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Who then played "Down in New Orleans" (I.E. One of the many songs that Newman has written for "The Frog Princess") as slides of preproduction art for this new John Musker & Ron Clements movie played on a screen directly above the band.

Given that this was the first public performance of a number from this still-in-preproduction motion picture, "Down in New Orleans" was greeted with very enthusiastic applause. The smallish crowd in the auditorium also roared its approval when John Lasseter revealed that Maddy (I.E. The title character in "The Frog Princess") would be the first-ever African-American Disney Princess.

Beyond that ... The only other news that might interest all you hardcore Disneyana fans out there is that the company is now revisiting its decision not to release "Song of the South" on DVD. When quizzed by Carol Koster about the current status of this 1946 Walt Disney Productions release, Iger first expressed his concerns about the film. Wondering aloud if it would actually be possible for today's audiences to put this picture in the proper context.

But Bob (while making no promises about what might happen next with this historic motion picture) then went on to say that " ... we will look at ("Song of the South") again. And Dick Cook (I.E. The Chairman of Walt Disney Studios) would be in charge of that effort."

 Photo courtesy of Google Images

Once the Q & A portion of the meeting was over, shareholders filed out of the hall. Where they were then handed a free "Disney Environmentality" travel mug which had been made from recyclable materials. One shareholder -- as they hefted this green clear plastic mug -- was heard to say "I'd dearly love to use this to brain that crazy old lady who kept disrupting the meeting."

But Evelyn Y. Davis had long since departed. As soon as her shareholder proposal for greenmail reform was voted down, Evelyn quietly slipped out of yesterday's meeting. Having gotten her moment in the sun at Disney's annual meeting, this self-described "World's Most Famous Shareholder" then exited the auditorium.

Where was she headed? Probably back to her condominium in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. And then from there ... Well, I'd imagine that Ms. Davis will soon be heading out for another annual meeting. Where she can then annoy yet another group of executives with her constant corporate kvetching.

Your thoughts?

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  • Good article Jim. Im glad someone is exposing this bizarre and deranged monster. For years she has been courtiously labelled as 'eccentric' but Im afraid thats a little tired now. Also I think its important to realise this 'deranged ego in the body of an elderly lady' no longer deserves the kind of courtesies that are continuously allowed her. It may have been eccentric at prior meetings but it was out and out sabotage this time around. A lot of people travel a long way to attend these meetings because they genuinely care about the company. It should not be allowed as a platform for deranged individuals to 'strut there stuff'. You know its just not funny any more. Its out and out rudeness. As a stockholder and a disney fan I am outraged that this bizarre entity was allowed to sabotage the meeting.

  • On the basis of her photo above, I'd say a place could be found for her in the Haunted Mansion. Not as a cast member, mind you, but rather more as set dressing. Perhaps in the Conservatory...

  • I remember her from the last Disney shareholder meeting in Anaheim.  Sounds like she was reasonably well behaved for that one, and you're right, Jim - the execs pretty much bend over backwards to put up with her.

    Can't say that I blame 'em - could you imagine the headlines if they had a couple of security guards pick her up and toss her butt on to the sidewalk like they really want to do?

  • Thanks for the article, Jim.  I'm jealous- I want to hear a song from "The Frog Princess".  I have nothing against New Orleans, and it seems fitting in a way to announce "The Frog Princess" there, but I wonder if the attendance would have been higer if the meeting would've been held in Anaheim or Orlando.  I would have tried and gone to the Orlando one.  

  • I have a question- I just read an article online from the Orlando Sentinel, and it made me wonder-

    Will Disney open a 2D animation unit again?  They're not going to outsource the animation for "The Frog Princess", are they?  It's one thing to "outsource" the animation to a Disney France or Disney Australia team, but not to some company outside of Disney.  Is the animation for "Enchanted" being done completely in-house?

  • So, Disney WASN'T running from Oralndo or Anaheim to avoid the union troubles? They actually went to the Big Easy because it fit the announcement of it's return to traditional animation? Eisner is actually gone? (oh yeah, each pack of Topps sports cards will now have a picture of Eisner included, his head superimposed on some star athletes body)

  • That lady is ANNOYING. I remember her from the infamous Philly shareholder's meeting and I wanted to smack her. Eccentric or whatever ... she's abrasive, irritating, and rude.

    As far as the articles goes, the SotS information is good to hear, although part of me wonders how much of all this SotS stuff is just smoke and mirrors to hype the film up before they finally "give in" and release it.

    Disney is above exploiting the race card for profit aren't they? AREN'T THEY???

  • On an unrelated note... does anyone else have a problem with their Peter Pan 2nd disk?  Mine skips and freezes during the backstage disney features.  I've tried the disk in multiple players.  I'm going to return it and get a new one.  Isolated or epidemic situation?

  • blackcauldron85: "Will Disney open a 2D animation unit again?  They're not going to outsource the animation for "The Frog Princess", are they?"

    I was asking myself the same question, and hope the answer is that they will.

    (Also, animation for "Enchanted" is done by James Baxter Animation, not WDFA/WDTA.)

  • Oh.  Thanks, Empoor.  Well, James Baxter used to work for Disney- it could be worse.  Now that Disney has decided that they'll continue making traditional animated films, they need to reopen its animated unit.  I'm sure many people would love to have their jobs back, as long as they know that they won't get laid off again.  

  • While I mostly agree with Jim Hill that Evelyn Y. Davis was annoying and self-serving, the interesting thing about her is that she is a bit more complex than his depiction indicates (although she was certainly at her worst here).  Davis has done some interesting, and I would argue good, things, like point out the outrageous heaps of money that major companies have just thrown out their top executives with little or no checks or balances, a practice that luckily seems to be on the decline, at least a bit.  Even at this meeting, in between her admittedly weird self-promotion, she was correct, I think, to point out that it would be better to give actual stock rather than stock options, as stock options may give a company's top executives or board an incentive to engineer or ignore illegal stock manipulations that might help them to sell their stock at an artificially inflated price (which Enron and others shows has happened).  It has always seemed inherently unfair to me that Michael Eisner and his close colleagues were allowed to get filthy rich by being given stock options at a fixed price that they could just sit on until the stock went way up in price, and then they could buy it at the old price, sell it at the new price, and walk away with millions.   And all at no financial risk to themselves.  That is not, I think, fair to real stockholders or good for a company.  Also, getting back to Davis, don't feel too bad for John Pepper, as he already dealt with Davis while at Proctor & Gamble.  These guys all know her.  If you want to read an interesting article on Davis, check out this one: http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2003-04-27-shareholders-davis_x.htm

  • I agree that there's nothing particularly wrong with Evelyn Davis' message, svonco - frankly it might do these companies' directors some good to put their emphasis on finding other things to do besides looking for questionable means of further enriching themselves at the expense of the shareholders and rank and file employees.  But the thing is, the messenger is as important as the message in today's world. No matter how good the idea is, if the person comes off as a self-serving, grandstanding kook, the idea comes off as kooky, too.

  • Why didn't they just leave the floor mic turned off until the Q&A session. Then unless the rude interruption can yell louder than a PA system they won't be more than an annoyance to a 6' radius.

    Did the crowd shout her down so they could see the rest of the presentation?

    Finally, once reason for granting stock options rather than stock is that it provides a retention incentive. This has been very successfully used in high tech where someone will be less tempted to jump ship for a 10-15% raise if they have a significant amount of in the money stock options. Plus it is supposed to tie the executive's financial interests to those of the company's owners; i.e. the shareholders.

  • Oh my goodness, considering this ladys behavior I'm glad that I didn't vote in favor of her greenmail reform. Now I have to ask: What is greenmail anyway? Seriously I don't know what it is.

  • Greenmail is when an investment group or really rich person buys up stock that is usually undervalued, all with the threat to break up a company and sell off the pieces to make a quick profit, but often really looking to have the company pay them off, buying back their shares at a higher price, thus giving the investor a quick profit, but no profit for other shareholders.  This happened to Disney back in 1984, when Saul Steinberg's Reliance Group, with the financial support of Drexel Burnham Lambert, threatened to take over undervalued Disney, which was a fairly stagnant company at the time, and break it up, selling off the pieces.  To keep that from happening, the company tried to quickly buy other corporations, including buying Gibson Greeting cards, in order to build up debt and make itself unappealing, called a poison pill defense.  Eventually, Disney agreed to pay off Steinberg to the tune of an instant $ 60 million profit.  Disney was later sued by shareholders, who claimed that they had to offer all shareholders the same profit, and Disney settled for about $45 million.  The whole episode was a big reason for the ouster of Ron Miller and for the Disney Board bringing in Frank Wells and Michael Eisner to run Disney.  Disney seemed nervous recently that Comcast might be another unwanted suitor, but this time there was no greenmail.

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